Example: Brent Spar

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The Environment Council / Shell - Brent Spar Project


ISSUES: How to dispose of an oil storage buoy that was provoking international attention and incidents


GOALS: To find a suitable disposal option and contractor to implement the decommissioning of the Brent Spar, an agreed decommissioning plan that all stakeholders could support


PARTICIPATING STAKEHOLDERS: Central and local government, NGOs and pressure groups, Ethics specialists, academics, technical experts and contractors, Shell staff


TIME FRAME: November 96 to December 97 (actual decommissioning finished on schedule January 2000)


MSP CONTACT DETAILS; URL: The Environment Council, UK; www.the-environment-council.org.uk



Type: Advising Shell on a decision they have to present to the UK Government

Level: Regional / Europe-wide. UK Government decision.


The 'Brent Spar Project' was Shell’s constructive and participative approach following its dispute with Greenpeace in 1995. Convened by the EC, the company sat down with a large number of its stakeholders and worked through a stakeholder dialogue process, which enabled a new recommendation for the fate of the Spar as a quay extension in Norway" (The Environment Council).

“A real dialogue must be a two-way conversation. We must listen, engage and respond to our stakeholders. We will be judged by our actions rather than our fine words”  Harry Roels, Shell Services International, Shell Report 2000 (www.shell.com/royal-en/content).


Procedural Aspects:

Designing the MSP

Initially a professional facilitator (The Environment Council) designed the process in consultation with the project manager from Shell, talking closely to some other stakeholders. Once the process was started, the stakeholders fed back on both content and process and they too shaped the design.


Identifying the issues to be addressed in an MSP

The stakeholders were given free rein with the issues, but the facilitator had tried the process out on Shell staff and bounced it off some other stakeholders to do a dry run to make sure she was prepared, and that the process was robust. Issues were generated at the workshop, in small, facilitated groups.


Identifying relevant stakeholders

The Environment Council, through its experience of dialogue identifies organisations and sometimes individuals, then asks the question “Is there anybody not on our list that you think really should be?”  The list stays open. The rule for the Brent Spar was that every person who attended the dialogue workshops needed to have a “constituency” which they represtented, and must report back to then, and feed back any constituency thoughts into the dialogue process. That way many more people were reached than were able physically to be there. In the Environment Councils experience participants often need help when dealing with their constituencies.


Identifying MSP participants

If when the stakeholders have been invited and a disproportionate number of one particular type – say industry representatives - respond, then the Environment Council will actively chase stakeholders from other sectors to balance numbers.


Setting the goals of an MSP

Content goals were not set. A question is posed. It was not “Where do you want to decommission the Brent Spar?” but “How can we decommission the Brent Spar in a way all stakeholders can support?”

Often the funder (in this case Shell) has a need (to dispose of the Brent Spar), and the goals is to keep the question as broad as possible. For many, they thought Shell still wanted to “dump” as they called it, because it was the cheapest option. Funders need to be aware that goals are likely to develop – they are likely to hear things in the dialogue that make them want to change their goals when a quicker/less conflictual path becomes apparent. It is often something nobody has thought of before, because the “intelligence” has never been brought together in this way before. This happened with the Brent Spar. It went from being a piece of waste that Shell had to dispose of, to a highly valued bit of steel which a number of development projects would dearly have loved to get their hands on.


Setting the agenda

Agenda in terms of process – what happens – the Core Group (in this case The Environment Council facilitator and Shell staff) set the agenda. In terms of what is talked about, it is up to the participants.  The shell was provided by the facilitators; participants provide the filling and therefore the kind of outcome.


Setting the time-table

Facilitators had an idea of a timetable, but this was open to change – it depends on the level of conflict.


Preparatory process

Many papers, a computer CD and other very user friendly documents were produced and distributed to the stakeholders – to help them decide if they wanted to be part of the dialogue process. Central records of all meetings are kept by the Project Co-ordinator at The Environemnt Council. This is usually in the form of photoreports of meetings which are written on flipchart paper.


Communication process

In the beginning, when discovering who is a stakeholder, there is a lot of one-to-one phone work to build the list. Then invitations and information are being sent out. Then joining instructions and then the participants turn up at the workshop. This was the first time some have met, and some had met in confrontational situations – eg on TV news programmes.

If there is high conflict there are facilitators facilitating small groups. They ensure that voices are heard, and thoughts and values are translated into words on the flipchart. It is an essential part of planning a process that people of all types are able to contribute. For those who have a problem talking in large plenary groups, there are smaller group exercises.


Decision-making process: procedures of agreement

Consensus was sought by asking appropriate questions and choosing appropriate techniques to ensure that there is a level of understanding amongst the participants that enables them to make decisions based on technical issues and the values and needs of their constituencies. The facilitator designed this process and intervened to ask questions that aim to get to consensus agreements.

The key to this was to get the participants – at workshops in London, Copenhagen, Holland and Germany to come up with criteria that any proposed option should meet. Thus, if Shell chose a disposal option which met these criteria, the stakeholders would be happy.


Implementation process

The implementation was the whole content of the dialogue. The potential contractors were well aware of and at some points involved in the dialogue.


Closing the MSP

Process concluded when there was a final stakeholder workshop and the participants agreed that they were happy for Shell to make a final decision based on the criteria supplied by the participants and on specific pointers and concerns around each option that were highlighted at that workshop.

The participants were asked for fun to choose, in small groups, which option they would like. The difference in opinion was striking, and some groups didn’t like the exercise at all. This demonstrated the difficulty in the decision-making process.


Structural Aspects:

Structures / institutions of the MSP

The Environment Council managed the whole process and had many “planning meetings” with Shell to make sure everyone was up to date, and that the material going out was in English (not engineering speak) etc.

The Environment Council arranged invitations, venues etc. being best aware of what is required. This was a highly political issue at the time, and The Environment Council co-ordinator and facilitator acted as “honest brokers” at times with parties who had difficulty contributing to, understanding and/or trusting the process. “Workshops” were used to gain input from participants, and to put dilemmas to participants, in order to inform Shell of stakeholder needs, and to inform stakeholders of Shell’s constraints in choosing options (eg there was a hole which made the structure unsafe).



The Environment Council managed all – as above.



Reporting was done verbatim from flip-charts and post-it notes used at the events. Reports were also transcribed with nothing changed. Stakeholders can then share the outcomes of the workshops with their constituents to get their feedback and comment on the process. The reports were put on the web and available to anybody in document form, too.


Relating to not-participating stakeholders

See above– the facilitator was constantly on call to all participants who feel they may have difficulty relating why they made the decisions they did at the dialogue workshop. Sometimes a stakeholder may go back to their constituency and because they have been through the learning experience of the workshop, has quite a different opinion to what they would have thought. The constituency has not had this learning experience, and there might be a difficulty at this stage (“constituency drift”) .


Relating to the general public

There were schools packs made up, a competition to see who had good ideas for the decommissioning of the Brent Spar, a web site and an interactive CD and probably many other forms of communication. The press were particularly interested in this project, so disseminating the decisions of the process was very easy (e.g. the 6 o’clock news).


Linkage into official decision-making process

Shell needed to present a recommendation to the Government. The government could reject their recommendation, but since there was a wide range of stakeholder support for the final decision, this was highly unlikely. The UK Government welcomes processes that produce consensus between a wide range of stakeholders, because it makes Ministers jobs easier – they know there will be no key stakeholder who object to the decision they make.



Shell paid – on the polluter pays principle. Shell were definitely the problem holder, having had a flawed decision-making process the first time around. (Not legally flawed, but it was not a legitimate decision, ie the public would not let them implement the decision. The process cost £ 450,000.


[ information gathered as of 16 February 2001 ]


Contact Minu Hemmati and Felix Dodds for further information.